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The 8 Cardinal Virtues in a Human’s Life

Chung Hsiao Elementary School in Taichung, Taiwan. The school is named after the first two characters of the Eight Virtues. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Chung Hsiao Elementary School in Taichung, Taiwan. The school is named after the first two characters of the Eight Virtues. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Eight Virtues refer to 忠 (zhōng), 孝 (xiào), 仁 (rén), 愛 (ài), 信 (xìn), 義 (yì), 和 (hé), and 平 (píng), which are the criteria that Confucius left for people to follow. They are regarded by the Chinese as the moral foundations of society. Failing to behave according to these moral standards, you would not be regarded as a human being.

Demonstration by Hsiao Shih-Hao, president of Moxiang Calligraphy Association Taipei, Taiwan. (Video Courtesy of NTDTV AP)

忠 (zhōng) refers to loyalty, which means unswerving allegiance in everything you do. So, government officials should not be corrupt and should be devoted to their duties. In other words, you should make the strongest effort to be dedicated and honest in all your relationships.

孝 (xiào) means filial piety, which is the most important one of the Eight Virtues. As a traditional Chinese saying puts it: “Of the hundred good deeds, filial piety comes first (百善孝為先, băi shàn xiào wéi xiān).” In fact, even the lamb kneels to be nursed, and the crow returns to feed its parents.

仁 (rén) denotes benevolence, which is the fundamental virtue among all the Confucian virtues. In reply to one of his disciple’s queries about benevolence, Confucius said: “To restrain yourself strictly, and let your words and deeds conform to propriety, is benevolence.”

愛( ài) is benevolent love, which refers to a virtue representing human compassion and affection. It also denotes the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of others.

Demonstration by Hsiao Shih-Hao, president of Moxiang Calligraphy Association Taipei, Taiwan. (Video: Courtesy of NTDTV AP)

信 (xìn) signifies trust or trustworthiness. One’s speech and actions should be honest, and should not be deceitful. If one makes promises to others, he should always be true to his word.

義 (yì) refers to justice, righteousness. It is also an important concept in Confucianism, which means the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. As a human being, you should always be impartial, unbiased, honest, and truthful. You should do your best to help others resolve their problems unconditionally, without ulterior motives.

和 (hé) means harmony. As an old saying goes: “There is no virtue greater than harmony (德莫大於和, dé mò dà yú hé).” It is a crucial element from the personal level all the way to the entire cosmos. So, one should live a peaceful life without enmity. If family members are in harmony, the family will be filled with love and vitality, and all things will go well.

平 (píng) denotes equality, which is one of the important elements in our lives. It is also the foundation of a fair society that everyone has the opportunity to reach his full potential. As Confucius said: “Inequality rather than want is the cause of trouble (不患寡而患不均, bù huàn guǎ ér huàn bù jun).” If one wants to have true happiness and wellbeing, he should attach much importance to the virtue of equality. One should not be greedy, and should not take advantage of anyone else in his daily life.

In the Three Principle of the People, the founding father of the Republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, especially advocated these eight cardinal virtues, and referred to them as the inherent morality of the Chinese nation.

In Taiwan, many schools and streets are named after the above eight virtues, and many public schools have their classes named with these eight characters. At school, students are reminded of the importance of the Eight Virtues through ethics classes.

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